Self-Examination vs. Flow

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates

Being a reflective person is something to be proud of. Many of us, if not most, are not.  We think little about ourselves.  Like sheep being herded into corrals, we set ourselves loose and only set boundaries where necessary, goading ourselves forward by finding motivation but not questioning why we go in a direction, why we respond to stimuli.  Notably, we find ourselves pressed against the boundaries, breaking them, hurting ourselves, over and over.  Once under duress, an unreflective person finally asks themselves why do I do this? and if they’re smart, they get themselves in front of a professional who knows how to hold up a mirror and help them reflect by way of purposeful example.

But the reflective person, and in particular the reflective person who has had some time in front of a professional and done the proper study, will have some sense of what is going on before it gets out of hand. They know why the sheep scatter the way they do when a wolf is spotted, and they know which ones are likely to butt up against the fence and be in danger of hurting themselves before they do it.

But self-examination is a double-edged sword. The degree to which we separate ourselves from aspects of ourselves for the purpose of reflection is correlated to that reflection’s effectiveness, and it takes skill (read: practice and experience) to do it effectively.  But the separation you create is not only an opportunity for objectivity, but an invitation for existing psychological issues to take hold in new ground.  A person who feels an irrational or uncontrollable disappointment in themselves surrounding their failure to meet their own potential, for instance, will use the objective perspective of themselves to project more self-hatred.  The metaphysical contradictions inherent to self-hate thrive on faulty premises, and the duplicated space created by the reflective mind gives it purchase to allow both sides of its meaning to flourish unimpeded by its antithesis.  And that allowance for the negative thoughts and emotions becomes addictive.

Ironically, the corollary of happiness, what in psychology is called flow, is a state in which the thinking and doing selves are merged. In flow there is no reflection because one exists in the moment and is not aware of themselves outside of what they are doing.  This is what is meant by those who say that life’s meaning lies not in the pursuit of happiness, but in the happiness of pursuit:  they are talking about flow.

So where then, does the proper line between singular awareness and divided/self-awareness lie? How much of each do we strive to achieve, if we are to achieve our best lives?

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